10 Common Mistakes Made on the FAFSA

Many colleges, universities and states use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, to determine students’ eligibility for nonfederal need-based aid — additional funds students can use to pay for school.

But making a mistake on the FAFSA or submitting the application late can result in processing delays or limit the amount of loans, grants and other aid awarded to a student, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Here are 10 common missteps to avoid:

1. Not Registering for an FSA ID Before Filling Out the FAFSA

Students who file as dependents, and their parents, each need to create an FSA ID in order to complete and sign the FAFSA. However, the process can take up to three days while information is confirmed through the Social Security Administration.

Without the FSA ID, applicants can’t correct information online or pre-fill the form with information from a past FAFSA application. Since the FSA ID is connected to an applicant’s Social Security number, parents who previously created one as a student do not need to make another account, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

2. Missing Deadlines

Parents and students can complete the FAFSA as early as Oct. 1 for the following academic year. While the application deadline isn’t until June 30, financial aid administrators recommend applying early since some states and colleges have earlier deadlines and limited funds.

[Read: Is the FAFSA Required?]

“It is so critical that students and parents pay attention to deadlines and complete the FAFSA as soon as it becomes available,” says David Carnevale, assistant vice president of undergraduate financial aid at Chapman University in California.

Note that filing before the Oct. 1 release results in completing the form for the wrong award year.

3. Using an Incorrect Social Security Number

While most mistakes on the online FAFSA application can be corrected after submission, an error in the Social Security number of the student or parent may require the submission of an entirely new application, experts say.

For students with parents who are not U.S. citizens or legal residents with a Social Security number, the Department of Education advises using “000-00-0000” when completing the form, not an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

4. Not Listing Schools Where You Plan to Apply

Applicants can list up to 10 schools on the online FAFSA and four on the paper version. If you don’t include a school where you’re planning to apply, that college or university won’t receive your information.

To make changes or add a school to the FAFSA, applicants need to log in to their FAFSA account and select the option “Make FAFSA Corrections.” Alternately, applicants can send up to four changes at a time on a paper version of their Student Aid Report, or SAR, by mail. The SAR is a summary of the FAFSA data submitted, and it’s sent to the applicant via email or postal mail.

5. Failing to Use Your Legal Name

Don’t use a nickname or other variations of your name, experts say.

The names an applicant lists on the application for a student or a parent must match government documents, such as a birth certificate or Social Security card. If the FAFSA has been submitted with an incorrect name, the applicant needs to submit a name change via the paper version of the SAR or contact a financial aid office at a college listed on the SAR.

To update a legal last name change, students can log in to their account and select “Personal Information” under “Settings.” That updated name should also be used on the FAFSA form.

6. Not Renewing the FAFSA Each Year

Students must complete and submit the FAFSA annually to be considered each school year for federal work-study and funds such as the Pell Grant, federal student loans and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, or FSEOG.

[Read: How to Renew the FAFSA.]

“Even if you don’t qualify for need-based financial aid, completing the FAFSA is required if you want to take advantage of any of the government student loans, and some colleges require it to be considered for merit scholarships,” says Shannon Vasconcelos, senior director of college finance at Bright Horizons College Coach.

7. Listing Parental Marriage Status Incorrectly

The Department of Education wants to know the marital status as of the day the FAFSA is signed. If an applicant’s custodial parent has remarried, the stepparent’s information should be included on the FAFSA.

For applicants with divorced or separated parents who don’t live together, answer the questions about the parent you’ve lived with the most over the last year. If it’s the same amount of time for each parent, report answers about the parent who provided more financial support during the past 12 months, according to the Department of Education.

8. Reporting Other Incorrect Information

“Make sure that your personal information matches your government ID and documents, like your birth certificate and Social Security,” says Liz Canini, a senior vice president at PNC Bank. “Double-check all of those entries,” especially your tax documentation, “so your form does not get rejected,” she advises.

The FAFSA requires tax information from the prior prior year. That means families will need tax information from 2021 when they’re completing the FAFSA for the 2023-2024 academic year.

However, changes in financial circumstances, like unemployment and income loss, can be directly reported to financial aid offices at colleges where a student is applying.

Financial aid experts also recommend having tax information handy when filling out the form or using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically transfers federal income tax information to the online FAFSA and reduces the probability of errors. Applicants who use the tool are also less likely to be selected for verification, Vasconcelos says, referring to a process that delays FAFSA processing.

9. Leaving Too Many Fields Blank

With more than 100 questions listed on the FAFSA, filling out the form can be an arduous process for many students and their families. But financial aid experts say that leaving too many blanks on the form may cause a miscalculation or even a rejected application.

[Read: How to Pay for College Using These Overlooked Strategies.]

Instead of leaving an answer to a question blank, NASFAA advises applicants to enter “0” or “not applicable.”

Applicants who have a question about the FAFSA form can contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center, or FSAIC, which provides support on behalf of the Department of Education. The FSAIC is available by phone — 800-433-3243 — chat or email.

“It’s a pretty lengthy process right now, so make sure you are collectively prepared to do it and have the focus time to get it done,” Canini says.

10. Forgetting to Sign Your Application

If an applicant doesn’t sign the FAFSA, the form is considered incomplete and won’t be processed.

Applicants need their FSA ID to sign electronically. Parents and students can find a link to obtain a FSA ID through the Federal Student Aid website. While many applicants submit the form online, applicants can also print the signature page and submit the FAFSA via mail.

The online FAFSA is processed by the Department of Education within three to five days while the paper form takes up to 10 days.

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.

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10 Common Mistakes Made on the FAFSA originally appeared on usnews.com

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